7th August 2015, Friday……Day (7) Bhaderwah-Gul Danda-Chattar Gala-Sarthal-Bani-Basohli-Mahanpur 207 km
After a nice sleep inside the car, 3rd in a row in Bhaderwah, parked in front of Rathore Restaurant at a junction of college link road, drove to Seri Bazaar and after two cups of tea and little chitchat with few locals, was off to Bhaderwah-Basohli road.
It was 6am in the morning.
For initial part of about 10 kilometers, the road is common for Chamba and Bani-Basohli. At a junction, the road bifurcates…the right one goes to Bani-Basohli and left to Chamba. The road climbs steeply thereafter and becomes isolated, rough, potholed and full of slush. Big boulders hidden inside the slush began hitting the underbelly of Lalpari.
The road at best is suitable for a four wheel drive or a sturdy bike. There are no fuel stations in between Bhaderwah and Basohli. Since I knew about Bhaderwah-Doda landslide and also that the road would not open soon, I had tanked up on the very first opportunity at Bhaderwah.
It was good to see lot of bakarwals and gujjars on the route. They were very friendly and welcoming. They still pursue a nomadic lifestyle and migrate to the plains in winters. The govt runs mobile schools to help educate their children and also provide facility of dual ration cards.
A very minimal amount is charged to them for grazing their cattle in the rich pastures of highland mountains. Their main source of income comes from selling livestock, milk, butter, khoya and barfi.
Soon I reached a beautiful place. It was Gul danda. The views of mountains and Padri Gali on Bhaderwah-Chamba road were pretty good from this place.
Met this lanky and sturdy gujjar near a settlement of gujjar kothis. Listening to him and their way of life was very interesting.
A good looking gujjar boy and girl ran a tea shop nearby. Sipping tea and chatting with them was a pleasure. On asking, they were too eager to be clicked.
A little later bumped into this crowd of bleating sheep, munching merrily on rich wild grass, while giving way in utter amazement as if someone has invaded into their privacy.
A gujjar family had pitched their tent and were living on the edge. There was a deep valley besides the tent and an accidental fall would have meant a great risk and especially since the family had lot many young kids.
While observing them all playing gleefully I wonder whether they were aware of it at all. It felt as if they had no fear and perhaps no one had planted it into their minds.
Not only this duo of rustic gujjar mother and daughter in law shared a trusting bond but also were keen to be happily photographed.
After having nice time with the gujjar family, it was time to move further. The road continued to climb steeply. The landscape around was becoming more and more beautiful. It felt as if I was driving into the heaven.
Pretty soon I reached a barricade on a hilltop. The sight around was just beautiful. Mist had engulfed the entire area and the visibility was very minimal. The security men at the post asked me to show id followed by some basic questions. They advised me not to stay at the top for long and not to click any pictures either.
It was Chattar Gala Pass, at around 10000 feet ASL, the highest point on the route. It is also a starting point for a 7 kilometer long trek to Kailash Kund Yatra.
Time was 10am and I had driven 50 kilometers in three hours so far.
There was a water point immediately after crossing the pass. I took a little break, freshened up and filled my water bottle. The security men also use water from this source for their daily requirement.
After crossing the pass the surroundings became even more beautiful. There were millions of bright colored flowers run wild all over the place. Whichever direction I saw, there were beautiful flowers blooming everywhere.
Surely it was the most beautiful part of the trip. Although Padri Pass was beautiful and so was Jai Valley but there was something special about this place. It was wild, colorful and had an overpowering aroma spread all around. It reminded me of my walk into the valley of flowers in Uttrakhand way back in 1980s.
It reminded me of a William Wordsworth poem which I loved to recite in college days, never thought one day I would live that dream while wandering lonely as a cloud through these beautiful vales and hills
It felt so good out there, such a jocund company, I felt as if I was in heaven and how I wished this should never end.
And another line from another famous romantic poet John Keats, came to my mind, ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ and I knew for sure these scenes have stuck deep permanently into my subconscious mind and would never fade away.
In the picture, Lalpari descending on the flower decked road from Chattar Gala Pass. The misty pass in the background is visible as well.
Descending down from Chattar Gala Pass, on a zigzag unpaved road towards Sarthal meadow. A beautiful wild stream flowed furiously through it.
Soon a taxi arrived and a boy came out to click pictures while the gal remained inside the vehicle. It was good to know that there was some traffic and that I was no longer alone.
Suddenly I came across this and thought some miscreants were around. It made me scary. For few seconds I anticipated something happening, a little later I alighted from the car, looked here and there and then pulled these boulders aside and drove through.
And there were more prettier sights.
Vast green hills, dales and grassy slopes looked fantastic, never seen such a landscape ever, anywhere else other than here.
Lalpari posing in the foreground. In between Chattar Gala and Sarthal I took break for hundreds of times. It felt that this drive should never end.
This board announced arrival of Sarthal and some amenities too, Lakhanpur-Sarthal
Development Authority. It took me two hours to cover 15 kilometers from Chattar Gala to Sarthal.
Perched at 7000 feet ASL, Sarthal is a beautiful place on the banks of a river with meadows and gujjar kothis all around. It has a temple, a mosque, a tourist bungalow and few eateries. It is hard to believe that it was a hotbed of terrorist some decades back and it was almost impossible for a tourist to even think of coming here.
Another 15 kilometers drive from Sarthal reached Lawang, a town which had few basic eating places and daily use shops. From here onwards the drive was all along Sewa River, a tributary of River Ravi. There were number of waterfalls all along the road.
Saw a red glamour parked on the road, it reminded me of my glamour which has taken me to many a beautiful rides in the mountains. Took its picture with Lalpari, for it’s impossible for me to take both of them together on my solo trips.
Another 10 kilometers drive and I was in Bani, busy town on the route. Took break and an ordinary lunch, no electricity so could not charge my cell and camera battery, resultantly fewer pictures thereafter.
From Bani, Basohli was another 85 kilometers. The road became little better but with too many cows on the road, fog and darkness, I found it very difficult. A drunk man was lying in the middle of the road, I could not muster up enough courage to get out of the car and check him, thinking it might be a trap.
Situated on the right bank of River Ravi, Basohli is famous for a palace in ruins and miniatures paintings. Recently a stunning 592 meter cable-stayed bridge called Basohli bridge connecting Basohli (J&K) with Dunera (Punjab) has been opened for public.
Reached Basohli at around 9pm. It looked a busy town, lot of dhabas, eateries near bus stand were still open. Walked through the bazaar and on the main road, didn’t like it somehow, so instead of breaking the journey at Basohli, decided to continue.
Lakhanpur was 72 km from Basohli and Amritsar another 125 km, a total of around 200 km. The road from Lakhanpur to Amritsar was butter smooth, so I thought could reach Amritsar just past midnight, which was not new to me.
The 32 kilometer road to Mahanpur was narrow, potholed and runs all along the Ranjit Sagar Lake. Due to lack of proper signboards, it was difficult to navigate the correct way. Finally reached a nice looking place which had few shops open, kind of liked the place immediately and decided to break the journey and call it a day.
Parked the car in front of a dimly lit sweet shop, pulled the covers over, slipped inside and tried to sleep inside the car, the 7th night of the trip, this time at Mahanpur (J&K).
Rewinding the whole day’s drive, especially just after crossing Chattar Gala Pass was just amazing. The sight of millions of bright colorful flowers run wild, reminded me of the remaining lines of William Wordsworth’s famous poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’.